I have had the privilege of listening to the stories and poems of Fabio Morábito at various stages of their writing process, as we have formed part of the same discussion group for many, many years. When listened to, as he has pointed out himself in some interviews, texts reveal many of their successes and shortcomings, but also other paths to follow.
Speaking of paths, the paths of his prose—and of his entire body of work—have always surprised me. Every story leads to an unexpected place, by virtue not of its shock value but of the way it reaches said place, and this happens too in his poems: there is an intelligence behind these stories that thinks deeply and entices us in every time. When, after some time has passed, I rediscover the same texts I once heard out loud, now published in print, my pleasure is companioned by the surprise of knowing the ultimate destination of that path we watched him traverse in the discussion group, like a hiker who, after a while, comes back from the forest with his backpack full of plants we’ve never seen before. I keep talking about paths because Fabio Morábito’s fiction has a spatial component to it that is very important: it takes place in the countryside, in empty lots, buildings, beaches, graveyards, swimming pools, racetracks, apartments, bedrooms, and even in the city of Troy, all of which somehow end up becoming philosophical landscapes, since in the lines they cross or that cross them—in the form of footprints, highways, rivalries, walls, barriers, or the famous horse—they express many of the conflicts that make up our human core.
I think of Fabio as a hiker just as I could think of him as a runner, or, as I did for some time, as an expert swimmer. His stories give the impression of having left out anything that might put up resistance against the flow of the words, like swimmers who shave their heads and seek smoothness above all in their suits and accoutrements. The work of writing in these stories seems to be a work of nudity, of keeping only what’s indispensable, avoiding indulgent adornment or easy solutions. Even so the mystery lingers, or, what’s worse, grows even deeper, because the gaze that guides the action is consummately detailed, cautious, and the limpid rhythm of the prose—as in the fiction of Italo Calvino—simply leads the reader on without unnecessary distractions. I’ll quote an answer Fabio gave a few months ago in an interview with Mónica Maristáin: “As a genre, I think poetry is actually closer to the short story. Even closer than it is to the novel, in some ways. The way you build a poem is the way you build a short story. Feeling about a little in the darkness, I mean, not knowing quite what’s coming next, listening deeply to what is written so as to deduce from it, almost inevitably, what follows. That is blatantly apparent in poetry, no one can predict the next verse, but it’s also part of the short story.” Listening to “what follows” leads us, if you will, to the truth of the story. We have read many short stories in the discussion group, and often our comments on them have to do with finding the center of the story, the angle that reveals its most unsettling nature and makes it worth being told.
Perhaps for this very reason, in this sort of submersion similar to that of poetry, Fabio Morábito’s short stories have a hypnotic character: he focuses on a point, draws a line, and invites us to follow it, a little like the tracks in the sand followed by a podiatrist on a beach in the story “Huellas” from his book Grieta de fatiga, which he interprets print by print as they wind toward the rocks and night falls. Night also falls in “En la pista” from Madres y perros, his latest book of short stories, where a group of runners gradually allows their animal nature to come out in the darkness; this story, with its specific and contained violence, is one of my favorites of his.
“Madres y peros,” the story that gives the book its name, tells of a man who has to feed his brother’s dog, a female, while said brother looks after their mother in the hospital. His fear of the dog keeps him from going into the apartment, and so he lives with the unease and guilt of knowing the animal is hungry. The central conflict—the mother’s death—is resolved through the back-and-forth of this apparently secondary conflict. As I mentioned at the start, the places where the stories of Madres y perros take place are also of note: a quarry, a lake, a highway, a beach at night, a bar in Berlin as the city awakes, a neighbor’s party into which the protagonist traipses because he lost his key, a deserted highway by which two men wait for a bus, one across from the other. Desolate landscapes, always alien and simultaneously full of mysteries and possibilities, like the empty lots Morábito himself talked about in one of his first books.
These routes are also the routes of writing and of thought, as they extend to his books of essays. También Berlín se olvida is a travel book about the city of Berlin, where Fabio Morábito lived for a year. In it, he shows us a city where the water, the language, the public transport, and the people represent coordinates for the traveler—limits that, as they are surpassed, transform one’s perception and the very shape of the city in which, as he tell us, he read nothing and devoted himself to walking. His footsteps traverse Berlin in search of a form of writing made up of the signs of this gray city:
Gray is a corrective color. It works on the spirit like sandpaper, removing unnecessary sediments, and Berlin, so gray and widespread, so reluctant to raise its voice, so full of parentheses of water that save it from being perfect, knows how to reduce itself to an intimate matter unique to each individual, which is ideal for writing and walking. It does not overwhelm with its beauty, for it lacks beauty, nor with any peculiarity, for it has almost none.
In his walking and the meticulous observation of his surroundings, his perception of water in cities is truly remarkable: there are cities that move with the water, cities that go along with the rivers that run through them, and cities that are dispersed, undaunted beside the still water, cities that cannot be concentrated. Another line in his writing is the line of the S-Bahn, a train that runs through the city at the height of the treetops, where the traveler discovers intimacy among the birds’ nests and the interiors of apartments. Encircling the city at mid-height, Morábito says, “the S-Bahn is something like a needle sewing a thread around Berlin. Perhaps, when it was built at the end of the last century, the hope, more than providing Berlin with a means of transport, was to create around this city that is the fruit of a grouping of peoples a knot that might pull it together, a final turn of the screw to leave everything squared away and in its place.”
The stories Fabio weaves around these coordinates in También Berlín se olvida are dripping with the biting, refined humor of one who observes and smiles to himself, or rather with melancholy in the face of certain limits: the difficulty of fluently speaking German, the cold that keeps the prostitutes locked away in their houses and prevents his son from forming friendships with his classmates until said friendships finally blossom in the spring.
This humor is very much present in a previous book of short stories, La vida ordenada. Its main character, a sort of narrator whose personality remains similar throughout the stories—in fact, he is named Antonio in two of them—is always falling victim to a curiosity that leads him to delve into the details of situations, seeming to open unsuspected cracks in them that rightly disrupt the order of life. Behind the closed doors of the apartment next door, the house with the fishtank, the Germans’ apartment where the narrator imagined an orgy taking place, the apartment the crook doesn’t want to go into, or behind a melody played in unison on the piano with a friend’s mother, there often dwells the stinger of desire or the dagger of pain. These instruments get stuck into this character, guided often by false clues, whose mission of discovery is hindered and egged on in turn by the little things in life, the actions and gestures of others, interwoven with his own memories, conflicts, and desires.
I refer to La vida ordenada because in its spirit, if we can call it that, I find the seed of Fabio’s two novels: Emilio, los chistes y la muerte and Home Reading Service (translated to English by Curtis Bauer). It is perhaps a little easier to sense what he says about his novels being extended short stories in the former, a lovely fable about the friendship between Emilio and Eurídice, a ten-year-old boy and a masseuse who meet in a neighborhood graveyard where Emilio goes to play. This apparently unbalanced relationship helps them both in their trying journey among the dead: the journey of mourning, in her case, and the journey of the death of childhood and of love between parents, in Emilio’s. The space of graves and apartments delimits the coordinates where Fabio puts the mystery of human relationships into play, the give-and-take of bodies and desire through the eyes of a child.
Home Reading Service is more complex, more of a “novel” if you will, and has been deservedly lauded and awarded in many countries. Its protagonist, a young man who has committed a minor crime, is sentenced to read aloud in the homes of elderly people. Possessed of a beautiful voice, he finds himself unable to understand what he reads and ends up getting wrapped up in a series of stories, some of which are somewhat sordid. Here I feel that Fabio, without leaving the fable aside, gets carried away by the novel’s tangled web, with the pleasure not of a hiker but of a ship’s captain. Here, the central theme is writing and reading as performative acts, a theme that has appeared before in many stories, and that sometimes takes on a Grand-Guignolesque tone when characters such as the ventriloquist brother and the deaf family come into play; poetry also appears in this novel, endearingly, through the poet Isabel Freire. The setting broadens, too, and the city of Cuernavaca appears as a backdrop to a story that unfolds through books and strange characters.
It is hard to read novels in the discussion group: someone was always absent when it was time to read the previous chapter, and now they don’t know what’s going on. And so I am still curious to know what Fabio’s novels might reveal when read aloud; perhaps I need a home reading service myself. At least, thanks to our discussion group, I know within which spaces Fabio’s upcoming stories will take place; for obvious reasons, I can’t reveal that here. His readers, drawn in by the magnet of his prose, will have to wait until the book comes out for their next chance to listen.